Christmas from the trees’ perspective in ‘An Axemas Story’ at NYC’s The Players Theatre

Cartwheel Theatrical has returned with a three-week limited engagement, at The Players Theatre, of An Axemas Story, its wacky holiday musical parody of ‘80s slasher films from the perspective of devout Christmas trees being viciously killed by humans with axes and chainsaws for seasonal decoration and profit. Written by Charlie O’Leary (book), Anthony de Angelis (music), and Patrick Spencer (lyrics), the “sappy send-up of capitalism and the religious right” combines pop-culture references, silly tree puns, anthropomorphized conifers, a play-within-a-play format, and meta-theatrical breaks through the fourth wall, to solve the murder mystery in Tree Town (Farmer Todd’s Christmas Tree Farm) and to discover the true meaning of Axemas.

The cast. Photo by EJ DeCoske.

Directed and choreographed by Mackenna Goodrich, the show moves along at a rapid-fire pace, so that everyone – especially the fictional last-minute addition of the storyteller’s granddaughter, who really doesn’t want to be in it, as a character they forgot to cast – can be done in 85 minutes. “Intermission? NO!” So it keeps on going, through eighteen hilarious song-and-dance numbers, performed by an ensemble cast of nine triple threats – Alex Canty, RJ Christian, Cat Greenfield, John Jeffords, Isabel Julazadeh, Atticus Shaindlin, Jillian Soares, Chris Trombetta, and Goodrich (who filled in for Brooke Searcy at the performance I attended), all but Trombetta playing multiple roles – with over-the-top comedic delivery and moves, masterful vocals and group harmonies (music direction by Sara Linger).

Brooke Searcy, Cat Greenfield, RJ Christian, John Jeffords, Alex Canty, Atticus Shaindlin, and Jillian Soares. Photo by EJ DeCoske.

All the Trees have human names, walk, talk, go to school, prepare for the Christmas Pageant about the birth of Baby Treesus with their drama teacher Mrs. Fraisier (Soares), express their religious convictions (or, in the case of Julazadeh’s Noel, lack thereof), become increasingly concerned about their missing classmate and others (with Noel, who ends up taking the lead in investigating, singing it’s “Too Weird”), and represent distinctive archetypes, just like people (as lampooned in the Older Trees’ “Bingo Night”). Christian’s Mayor Maple is the smooth-talking politico, Canty’s Buck is the bully, Trombetta’s Small Paul is the little one who gets bullied then tries to bulk up after being told by Noel “It’s Up To You,” Greenfield’s Fern is the sexy one, “Log Jammin’” with Shaindlin’s Chuck, Goodrich’s Virginia is the nice tree who won’t have sex till she’s married (or knows she’s in danger and has five minutes left before she’s going to die), and Jeffords is the Grandpa Tree, who relays his memories of the murderous story. Sound ridiculous? It is, uproariously so, and that is also acknowledged by the company in a funny meta-theatrical moment of self-awareness.

Brooke Searcy, Jillian Soares, Chris Trombetta, RJ Christian, and Alex Canty. Photo by EJ DeCoske.

There are also human characters (Jeffords’ Farmer Ted, who espouses Christianity and nourishes the trees, and the people who come to his Christmas Tree Farm to buy them) and puppets of woodland and ocean creatures (Deer, Bird, Squirrel, and Dolphin, designed by Meredith Juergens and operated by members of the cast). The actors, wearing headbands adorned with small trees and casual country-style costumes (by Stephanie Fisher) that are suited to their personalities, perform on a mostly bare stage (and note the show’s low budget!), with a festive pine garland with Christmas lights and ornaments, three makeshift evergreen trees, and three sheer curtains through which we see the brutal take-downs by axe and chainsaw (set and props by Lauren Barber), signaled by an eerie shift to red lighting (by Jacqueline Scaletta).

Isabel Julazadeh and John Jeffords. Photo by EJ DeCoske.

Will the Trees discover who’s behind the rampant deforestation in time for their annual Christmas Pageant? Does Farmer Todd love his Trees as much as they think he does? Is Small Paul really to blame or will he help Noel crack the case? Is there an actual moral to this musical? Find out for yourself in the hysterically silly and highly entertaining An Axemas Story.

Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, without intermission.

An Axemas Story plays through Sunday, December 17, 2023, at Cartwheels Theatrical, performing at The Players Theatre, 115 Macdougal Street, 3rd floor, NYC. For tickets (priced at $62-$89, including fees), go online.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here